Everything that has occurred in Venezuela over the past two decades has undoubtedly left physical and psychological scars on my people. The repression, violence, shortages, and everything else that has been unleashed through the rule of the socialist regime should serve as a cautionary tale for everyone.
This time around, I would like to bring attention to one aspect — a pure evil on its own — that is not often talked about: the growing sexual exploitation of Venezuelan women in the country and beyond its borders, which has grown unchecked under the shadow of (and thanks to) the rise and collapse of the once-celebrated Bolivarian Socialism.
It is a growing, extremely delicate matter that has often gone muffled by “bigger” news such as rolling blackouts, inflation, currency shenanigans, and all those occurrences that I often deal with through humor.
The recently released report from the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (FFMV) makes a special mention of the grave human rights violations that occur in the socialist regime’s Mining Arc.
The Arc is a large area located between the States of Bolívar, Amazonas, and Delta Amacuro established by dictator Maduro and heavily controlled by the military. The indiscriminate and voracious mining of gold and other minerals has caused serious environmental damage and have forced the indigenous population to flee.
What makes an already cruel situation even worse is the evidence of the sexual exploitation of children and teenagers through forced prostitution documented by the latest U.N. report.
“A researcher documented the case of a 16-year-old girl who was tricked into going to Santa Elena de Uairén to take care of children but was then lured to offer sexual services,” the report detailed. “A miner who worked at the La Ramona mine near Tumeremo in 2017 explained to an NGO that on weekends at the mine, parties were organized where girls’ virginities were auctioned off, with younger girls getting a higher price. He also spoke of boys being offered, depending on the miner’s sexual interest.”
Some cases of sexual exploitation are born out of necessity, stemming from the complete collapse of the country. The U.N. report details one such example:
The Mission interviewed an indigenous adolescent girl who had offered sexual services between 2018 and 2020 in La Paragua square, Angostura municipality, when she was between 14 and 16 years old. She said that no one forced her and that she did it out of necessity, stating that this was “normal in Venezuela”. Her clients were miners and State armed forces who paid her in gold or cash, which she used to rent her own room to work.
The situation is not limited to the confines of the regime’s Mining Arc but rather a widespread problem that continues to scar young Venezuelan women. In August, Venezuelan authorities rescued six women between the ages of 15 and 19 from a sexual exploitation network in Anzoategui state.
The Venezuelan migrant crisis – the largest in the region and equal in magnitude to the Ukrainian migrant crisis, despite not a single bomb having been dropped in the country other than socialist collapse — has allowed sexual exploitation to grow unchecked.
A report published in August detailed how a group of four Venezuelan adult women — and a teenager — escaped from a human trafficking network that forced them into sexual slavery. Another grueling report, published on Friday, recounted how, since 2018, women had been lured into sexual slavery from Venezuela to Curacao. The women ranged from humble and poor to women with university careers who, pushed by the precarious economical state and living conditions, were lied to with promises of work, only to end up falling prey to sexual exploitation through unpayable debts.
The reports are frequent and abundant, and there will undoubtedly be many stories of sexual exploitation and slavery that will never get told. Personally, I was witness to one such story back in 2011, during my brief three-year tenure as local personnel in one of Venezuela’s smaller embassies on the continent.
To put things in context, in 2011, Venezuela was still under the rule of “Supreme Commander” Hugo Chávez. This occurred some months before he publicly announced that he had cancer and the now-socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro was his foreign affairs minister.
The country, still deemed a socialist darling by the international left, was a couple of years away from going through the brutal collapse of socialism — and yet, the early cracks were showing, with growing shortages and austerity decrees that should have served as a serious warning that the power of the regime’s oil checkbook was waning.
I got a phone call from my boss at the time one late April 2011 night. My boss informed me that the local police had arrested two undocumented women that had declared to be Venezuelan citizens. As they were basically illegal immigrants, the correct course of action was to keep them detained and arrange for their deportation, but there were prior steps to comply with, including the corresponding proceedings from the Embassy’s consular section, where I worked.
When the two women were interviewed by embassy staff, they recounted their tale, one similar to the reports I mentioned above. They had been falsely lured with promises of work in the neighboring country of Guyana, which saw them fall into sexual slavery.
Their passports had been seized by the traffickers and the women were thrown into a small house alongside other women to be forcefully used and abused. The two women claimed that they managed to escape through a small bathroom window one night and wandered off without any clue as to their whereabouts, wandering off from Guyana’s borders and into Suriname, where they were arrested.
The next step was to report the case to the Venezuelan authorities and follow protocol. Their identities were eventually confirmed through their national ID card numbers. Now, one problem was that the embassy had no resources to handle any sort of emergencies – courtesy of a 2009 austerity decree that slashed resources because the socialist oil checkbook was drying up.
My boss brokered a deal with the police – not exactly the most ideal, but it was better than leaving the two women in jail until their deportation. The deal saw the two women be placed into a sort of pseudo-house arrest and remain within the premises of the embassy until their deportation. My boss had to cover some expenses out of her own pocket so that the two women could have some clothing, food, and inflatable mattresses to sleep on while bureaucracy took its course.
I was a regular worker – as such, I had no say in these sorts of matters, nor was there any humanitarian crisis yet that these two women could seek asylum or refugee as victims of — not to mention that Suriname was under a leftist government friendly to the socialist revolution to boot.
All I was assigned to do was to draft a one-time-only emergency travel document that allowed the two women to return to Venezuela in lieu of a more proper “emergency passport,” which the embassy did not count. I was basically sending them back to where they came from.
The document does not detail the circumstances that led the two women to fall into sexual slavery, nor does it mention the hell they went through. It limited itself to asserting, “due to an ignorance of international immigration laws,” these two women had not obtained passports or visas.
As I requested a new set of fingerprints from them to finalize some paperwork, one of them asked me a question I can barely remember regarding the exchange rate of the United States dollar, which, at the time, was illegal to hold or trade in Venezuela.
I suggested to her that it would be better if she could find someone she could trust in Venezuela to exchange it through the black market, as it would net her more Venezuelan bolivars than through official exchange rates.
Had someone with enough malice heard me say that to her, I would have lost my job on the spot — as I was, without a doubt, breaking the fierce “illicit currency exchange” law that forbade people from owning foreign cash — but that was the only way I could, at the very least, provide some sort of aid to these two women who had gone through hell.
The two women were deported around the first week of May 2011. The police escorted them into an airplane that got them back to the “socialist fatherland.” I don’t know what happened to those two women afterward. Perhaps they found a way to heal from what they experienced. Perhaps they are now among the over six million migrants who fled the country. I really have no way to know.
Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.